Why Final Fantasy’s Very First Ultima Spell Was Useless

By Sato . October 20, 2014 . 12:58pm

55504-Final_Fantasy_II_(USA)_(Proto)-10

“Ultima” has always been around in the Final Fantasy series, and it’s almost always the strongest spell in the game. However, it didn’t exactly start out that way, and a programmer recently blogged about a discussion he had with Hironobu Sakaguchi on why Ultima was useless in Final Fantasy II, which is where it was first introduced.

 

The programmer in question is named Hiromasa Iwasaki, who worked on various games such as Ys I & II, and various others during the Famicom and Game Boy era.

 

As some of you may know, when Final Fantasy II was originally released on the Famicom, one thing that was quite a popular topic at the time was the Ultima spell, which was very difficult to acquire, but was also practically useless.

 

Just to give you an idea of how useless it was, in the NES version of the game, Ultima was initially meant to increase its power relative to the level of other spells the caster had, but due to a bug, it caused the spell to do just around 500 damage at the most on a single target.

 

Baffled by how the series’ most powerful spell ended up being so weak in its debut game, Iwasaki and other fellow developers spoke with Hironobu Sakaguchi, who directed Final Fantasy II, about how that ended up happening.

 

At the time, when Square tested the game out and saw the Ultima bug, it was definitely a problem, and Sakaguchi said “How did this happen? Fix it.” However, the person that programmed it replied with the following statement:

 

“All of that legendary stuff, it dates back to an age that didn’t even have proper techniques. If you were to look at such things now in the present’s point-of-view, it would be natural that they look inferior. For this reason, it’s a given that Ultima’s abilities would be bad.”

 

“As for those who struggled and ultimately acquired it only to find out that it’s useless… well, that’s something that often happens in life. So, I’m not going to fix it!”

 

Naturally, Sakaguchi was rather irritated by that reply and said “whatever, just give me the source,” so he could fix it himself. As it turned out, the programmer had ciphered the source, so he ended up being the only one who could do anything with it, and it was just left the way it was.

 

Iwasaki says that he can’t say for sure whether the story from Sakaguchi was the truth, but either way, it makes for a good laugh.


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  • Kaihedgie

    What a jerk x:

    • My sentiments exactly. Whatta troll.

  • And then the programmer was let go the next day, I presume?

    • katamari damacy

      As a direct and blatant insubordination of his own boss who ended up saying “fuck it i’ll fix it myself” i’m surprised he wasn’t fired immediately.

      • Black Heaven

        Wasn’t this ancient history of the 90’s. So we’ll know if he really was booted or not. Just check the rolling credits in FF3 if he was still there.

        …. if only we know this jerk’s name.

        • Choco Bunneh

          All the old FF games said “PROGRAMMED BY NASIR.”

          So it was probably that guy, Nasir Gebelli.

    • GH56734

      No.
      When he was forced to leave Japan due to an expired visa, the whole Japanese side of the dev team FOLLOWED HIM

      • JohnNiles

        Wonder if the bureaucracy gave him the same kind of “It can’t be helped” excuse he gave to his boss.

  • James Reilly

    I can see where he was coming from. Pretty much reinforced a life lesson that the most thought after thing might not live up to the reputation in the FF world. Guy has balls though to risk his job over his personal philosophy.

    • Yes. It doesn’t jive with my vision of a Japanese company, or my vision of how someone would treat Sakaguchi, even back then. I like it though.

  • Grumpy Drizzle

    Because that’s the only bad thing about FF2. *cough*

    • ATTACK EACH OTHER WITHIN AN INCH OF YOUR LIFE TO GET STRONGER

      • Quan Chi

        What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Sounds realistic to me. Stats leveling up individual was pretty good. This way, if you didn’t struggle, you wouldn’t gain anything. Why do you need to get stronger if there is no challenge. Makes alot of sense that you would gain strength from defeating something that was hard. It was very innovative. It didn’t shine til the PSP version where you had alot of stuff to do to actually level to the max without a 2nd thought unlike the psx version.

    • 하세요

      One day I’ll figure out something good that came out of FFII. That was an awful experience and I’ll never do it again, lol.

      • SobriK

        The Rebel Army Theme. That’s… about it.

        • 하세요

          Minwu’s kamehameha blast was a neat scene. Should call it “Final Fantasy II – Because There’s Only Two Good Things In This Game.”

        • Jaku618

          The boss theme for the more “tougher” bosses was great,The Emperor final battle theme was good,and Pandemonium was a good final dugeon theme.

          • SobriK

            Yeah, good points all around. I forgot how much I loved the Dissidia arrangement of Pandemonium

          • Jaku618

            Dissidia and Duodecim arragments all around were great.I wish Square make a third one.

      • The game introduced chocobos and MP. I can’t think of anything else at the moment, but I’m pretty sure FFII brought quite a few things that ended up becoming series staples.

        • 하세요

          I’ll give it chocobo as a plus. MP, well, that’s something in just about every RPG; video game or board game. Still, after playing and completing every main series FF game, I’d have to give the “Worst” title to II.

    • LightningFarron19

      FF2 is up there with FF14 and FF3 in broken game design.

      And people complain about FF13? Hah! They would not know bad game if it bit them in the ass. Hell even something as mediocre to me as FF8 still has far more merit than such an atrocious game as FF2.

      • WaffleKnight

        So much wrong with this statement … I agree that FF13 is is a broken game (I call it an atrocious abomination) but i also call it a bad JRPG in general and has nothing about it that makes it a Final Fantasy game. It has boring characters, terrible unrewarding combat (Synergist Saboteur Sentinal – Relentless Assualt Paradigm) which wasn’t the dynamic combat shown in the trailers. You are meant to care about Sarah as the motivation for Lightning and Snow but we don’t get enough time to learn about who she is too give a damn, making her exactly the same as Vaan and Penelo in that they can be thrown out the story entirely without losing anything and with minimal reworking can creative overall better characters (One of the biggest problems with Sarah to me at least is that she feels like she is only there to keep Lightning and Snow from boning because they at least have some chemistry displayed but that’s just me). The Summons all look like garbage and are an insult to the originals same name be damned, even the B tier FFX12 summons look better than the over designed robot garbage of FF13. Lightning’s voice is delivered so flat that you have to force yourself to not skip cutscenes in order to learn about the story but even that is confusing garbage about false gods and other nonsense. But the worst thing about FF13 is that it is a trilogy with all terrible games from FFX13-2’s completely devoid of personality Sarah and Lightning Returns 7 hour play time and horrible mmo side quest level up system. There is next to nothing redeemable about the FF13 trilogy besides the fact they look pretty but in the FF franchise any fan who loves the series knows that the graphics do not matter.

        FF2 on the other hand has one of the best FF experiences you can have from the older games (FF1 – FF4 prior to DS Re release of FF4) Its characters have motivations the combat is competent, the level up system is a pretty cool concept and even though it doesn’t completely work it still works enough to not overly hamper the experience (unlike FF13 which locks off leveling progress which is one of my biggest peeves in any RPG) It quickly establishes a villain and even though he is not iconic like Kefka or Sephiroth at least he is a clear villain (unllike FF13) and in the very least its plot is clear.

        It is true that FF2 is not as good as FF8 but if you think that FF8 is mediocre, you are kidding yourself as even though it is the popular opinion to hate on FF8 it is definitely one of the top 3 of overall best FF titles at least in my opinion(surpassed only by FF 5 – 6 – 7 – or maybe 10 take your pick). Is FF2 worse than 8 yes is it the on par with the FF13 in terms of how terrible it is, god no.

        The worst (when i say worst i only mean it is not as good as not that it is a terrible game unless it’s FF13) to best are as follows.

        FF13 trilogy – FF1 – FF3 (DS) – FF12 – FF4 – FF2 or FF4 DS – FF9 – FFX – FF7 – FF8 – FF5 – FF6

        Stay golden don’t get mad that i don’t like FF7 as much FF8 and goodnight.

  • SobriK

    What’s funny (?) about Ultima in FF2 is that, even in the Dawn of Souls remaster version, it’s still pretty terrible thanks to the bizarre way you level up spells and abilities in that game. I remember picking it up and thinking “Oh shi- Ultima!”, using it twice, then going back to spamming my grotesquely overpowered 150 gil Fire.

    • 하세요

      It was probably left that way intentionally after reading this demonic story from Diablos himself.

  • BlitzWhat

    I hope this story is true, this kind of thing is exactly why I love FF2 and the SaGa series that carried on the legacy.

  • Perro

    “As for those who struggled and ultimately acquired it only to find out that it’s useless… well, that’s something that often happens in life. So, I’m not going to fix it!”

    http://img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20110522114209/uncyclopedia/images/9/97/This-guy-are-sick.jpeg

    • LightningFarron19

      Now that is a jerk of a developer. “YOu guys want me to fix this particular spell that I was asked to program and do? Fuck you!”

    • Quan Chi

      This was actually left in from the rush of releasing the game on time. This part you were supposed to revive that guy and he’ll give you something to take to bugenhagen that would revive aeris. But it was taken out and some errors were left in.

  • Quiet Gear Soild

    “As for those who struggled and ultimately
    acquired it only to find out that it’s useless… well, that’s something
    that often happens in life. So, I’m not going to fix it!”

    This is so true.

  • It’s still pretty useless for the most part. More often than not, the damage increase with ultima isn’t significant enough and the MP increase that comes with it makes it not worth it. There are usually spells that cost less MP, but still do damage that is more than good enough to make using ultima irrelevant.

    Really, it’s one of those spells that’s fun to use because it’s flashy, not always because it’s useful.

    • Rollersnake

      I did enough pointless grinding on at least one playthrough that Ultima ended up legitimately being Firion’s strongest attack spell by the time it had gained a few levels. And Minwu’s in Soul of Rebirth of course, but that’s comparatively trivial.

      For reasons I don’t quite understand, I’ve completed more playthroughs of FF2 than of any other RPG. And I like to consider myself someone who has good taste in games.

      • There’s no such thing as “good taste” in my opinion. You either like something or you don’t. I don’t like games that everybody else seems to love for whatever reason, but to them, it’s just a case of them seeing something I can’t see and finding enjoyment in something I don’t. They don’t objectively have better or worst taste than I do. I don’t like FFII, but clearly people have reasons for enjoying it that others don’t find appealing.

  • christ what an asshole

  • Demeanor

    I do hope that that dev was properly hamstrung afterwards.
    That was the most idiotic and ridiculous excuse I have ever had the misfortune of hearing (and I work in a field closely tied to sw development and where far-fetched excuses come up quite often).
    An ultimate spell must be stronger that the others, period. Also, this is a lesson that Square has pretty much NEVER learned, when was Ultima really more powerful than other uber spells? In FF VII you could get at most 9999 out of damage with it, wasn’t it? In LR, a VERY recent game, it’s laughable, super long cast time for a spell that hits for more when you’re near death, leaves you completely vulnerable, and is overshadowed in damage by any kind of decent melee combo attack.

    • Revorse

      I hate Ultima in Lighting Returns.

      • Demeanor

        They went out of their way to make Flare, Freeze, etc useless as well XD

        • Revorse

          Those ridiculous cast times made me think I was about to beast something… Hehehe, that was completely not the case

  • DesmaX

    I’m pretty sure not even the programmer knew what to do, lol

    Must’ve been tough developing games on the NES

  • animefreakhq

    That asshole.

  • Martian Wong

    If I say the same thing to my boss, I would be fired.

    • GH56734

      They’re friends.
      And when his work visa expired during FF3’s development and he had to move from Japan, the whole game team followed him.
      Plus, Nasir’ pedigree was something else :P

      • Martian Wong

        Followed him where?

        • Barrylocke89

          IIRC to California. Yup, FF3 was made in the good ol USA (and not released here til years later)

          • GH56734

            Since the second game got cancelled from a projected 1991 release.
            Both II and III were planned for US release (and V, for that matter, though the scrapped English version made it, in unpolished form, to the PS1 officially) and programming started on English versions. Only the second ended up leaked.

      • Ultima-X

        How the hell they consider themselves “friends” after this is something I refuse to believe.

    • Ultima-X

      As you should.

  • César H. Sandoval

    LOL “Well, life’s not fair!” is a funny way to excuse yourself from a fuckup, Imagine those mythical explorers, questing for hours in a dungeon to find some useless magical spell.

    Is like something out of Monty Python.

  • Quan Chi

    Alot of stuff in FF was useless. Magic was useless for quite a number of FFs because you could always just press attack and win. ARK from FF9 was useless because you had to take all that time to wait for its animations just to do one number set that could easily be done with other things. Tornado and Ultima was useless in FF6 because other magics and attacks could do more damage without waiting for a long animation. Quickenings, Rods, and Sextants are useless in FF12 for obvious reasons. Jobs are useless in general in FFIII because in the end, everything will give the same damage. Magic was useless in FFII. You could literally beat the game without even using one spell besides cure. It just extended playtime in a non-fun way to just level them up to max level.

    • Guillermo Oliva III

      Yeah, “magic” was just a show for flashyness or to carry out through its story or use. Also, there were not a lot of strong feeble type enemys or enemys that nullifys physical attack and were naturally weak against magic. So, like FFXIII some enemys are weak against magic and some are weak against physical attack or some requires a pattern to defeat or break them to be very weak. Over all, I see your point with FFIX and FFVI, not only did I know that FFIII and FFII were the same ,but FFVIII was ridiculously easy to play.

      • Ultima-X

        FFVIII was boring, besides using magic in 8 was actually a detriment (in a stupid way mind you). 2 & 3 were the same? In what way? Did you morons not play these games? Where is your sense in strategy?

        • Guillermo Oliva III

          Who are you calling a “moron”? if you are going insult and not keep a decent conversation, then do not bother me.

          • Quan Chi

            Don’t pay him any mind. I feelya.

          • Guillermo Oliva III

            Yeah, foul language are so unnecessary :S

    • Ultima-X

      You have no idea what the meaning of strategy is do you? Idiot.

  • XyzzySqrl

    It occurs to me this would actually make a really GREAT statement if it were done purposefully, supported by the narrative itself. The ancient magical spell that’s meant to save everyone is this dumb prototype explosion of raw energy. Focused technique has long improved on it. The heroes realize they’ve outpaced and surpassed the “great wise ancients” and they ARE capable of saving their own damn selves with their own abilities.

    It’s a shame that’s not actually the story they were TRYING TO TELL, so it just undermines it instead of supporting or enhancing it, but y’know. One day.

  • DuskSharkEX

    Nice to know the sacrifice made to get the spell was for nothing.

  • Ni ~Algidus~

    LOL
    what an ass, he was just being lazy and a jerk

  • Michieie

    So the guy just told Sakaguchi to go to hell? That’s having balls.

    • Ultima-X

      Why though? What’s the point if you’re basically going to get your ass thrown out in the street because you were a prick?

      • Michieie

        He had balls to say it because that was the consequence. I don’t like that, though; I like Sakaguchi.

  • James Enk

    what a badass xD

    • Ultima-X

      How is this badass? He’s just a douchebag who shouldn’t have gotten the job.

      • James Enk

        telling your boss to just fk off and at the same time give life lessons? that’s bad ass in my book :)

        • Ultima-X

          And ONLY your book. To any other sensible person, it’s not only selfish but stupid.

          • James Enk

            dude you need to relax a bit, you are very uptight

  • Gekokujou

    This programmer, who is he, and where does he live?

    • GH56734

      Nasir Gebelli, aka NASIR

      http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/736x/e8/f7/5f/e8f75f75b0e28ea5f3ce720d11254b04.jpg

      None other than the programmer behind the first three Final Fantasy games (including the WS/GBA remake), and Secret of Mana, as well as an impressive portfolio of Apple II and Famicom games. (Do not blame him for FF2/3 being unreleased here, it was a marketing choice, but he did have English versions in progress and one was even leaked) He included hidden easter eggs with his name in those too.

      Currently retired in California. His bio is very interesting (you could read the Iwata Asks for The Last Story for example). He was, even then, really good friends with Sakagushi actually.

      • Gekokujou

        He still needs to smacked in the head for the matter of the Ultima spell. I’ll pay him a visit soon enough now that I know where he lives.

        In any case, thanks for the info. I’ll be sure to read up on that Last Story article. Seems like there’s a lot more to this guy than being a programmer who screwed everyone over in FF2.

        • GH56734

          Not cool man, even as a joke.
          Would you hit Itoi too for not implementing “proper” (like, conventional) final bosses in Mother/EB games? Plus, the Ultima spell was just a joke item thing in FF2. Lots of other games had difficult-to-obtain joke items. I don’t get the hate.

          Unless it’s hate for FF2’s numerous, and far more important flaws, I guess. It’s unfair to project all of the dissatisfaction with the game design on the code monkey :(

          That game has much more issues than that one and that was due to the game designer’s unorthodox approaches (even with the fix for the Ultima spell in the GBA remake, it’s still useless because of an inherently flawed battle/stat system). When they got him out of the way and assigned him to work on SaGa games (with much more creative control, and it turned for the best for everyone), Nasir got the designs that helped him do FF3 properly.

          If you do meet this man, make sure to thank him because without him there wouldn’t be a first Final Fantasy, or the whole Square backlog for that matter (since Square would have gone bankrupt without this game being a hit). He went through a lot while working at Square, and he more than earned the right to make Ultima useless – I forgive him wholeheartedly.

    • Guest

      -deleted

  • NeoMosko

    The programmer forgot how to deciphe the code, IMO.

    Now i wonder, how bout making a new ultima spell with the right values, and change the spell call to this one.

  • Chow

    That’s some serious Insanity Wolf meme going on there, LOL.

  • Göran Isacson

    On the one hand, I agree with XyzzySqrl that it sounds like something that COULD have been a really cool lesson if the narrative had actually supported it… but on the other hand it’s also PRETTY DARN CLEAR that the guy was just lazy/had forgotten how to fix it/was so burned out he couldn’t be assed to do anything else, and was just spinning a particularly elaborate reason for WHY he didn’t want to fix it.

    Like… just make it a strong spell. It is not some herculean task dude. It does not need an elaborate reason to be fixed.

  • Aspenharls

    Classic Square, lazy even back in the day.

  • ndjn3979

    lulz, I guess there is all kinds of idiocy in the world.

  • Guillermo Oliva III

    I am surprise . . . . . I guess, famous people get lazy too :b

  • Sydney Losstarot

    And yet the Blood sword was overpowered on the last boss in all FF2 versions. Was the blood sword intended to be a secret weapon or was that a bug. If it was intended, it didn’t really fit into the story. Does the programmer have a logical explanation for it?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2wkktTRtKQ#t=53

    • mockturtle

      I don’t know what the deal was, but I’m thankful for the Blood Sword regardless. I’d have never beaten the game otherwise.

  • scdk

    My Japanese is a bit weak, but reading the source article, it sounds like this is a recollection of a restaurant dinner gathering from 25 years ago, so there’s probably a bit of fuzzy memory and entertainment embellishment (on Sakaguchi’s part) going on. Like a lot of good stories, it’s probably part truth, part fiction, and a bit left to the readers’ imagination.

    Also interesting is an alternate interpretation of Ultima in the first comment below the article. It says that maybe it’s the ultimate magic because the damage is independent of the user’s skill, allowing anyone to deal a certain amount of damage with it. I guess it still sucked, but whatever.

  • Kango234

    And then he was immediately fired.

  • Sylveria Shini

    FF 2’s original version was a buggy mess all over. Ultima being underpowered was one of the smaller ones.

  • Mark Lengod

    SaGa’s father. Never played the original, but had lot’s of fun with the Dawn of Souls/Anniversary versions.

  • Seink

    9.5/10 points!

  • Yan Zhao

    lol, I actually kinda respect him for that.

  • Ricewarrior

    lol

    Sounds like someone who was just fed up with their job.

  • Jesus Christ

    Maybe it’s because I’m missing something, but spells in general were horrible in this game. It took forever to level anything up, and Ultimate was just pitiful even after gaining several levels.

    • Adam Rasmussen

      You are missing something. The spells can be quite strong, but you have to level them more than “several” times, and you can’t try to level all 16 of them. It’s imperative that spellcasters not wear heavy armor or any weapons other than knives and staves, as it ruins their intelligence/spirit bonus. Also, don’t cast them against all enemies unless it’s the enemy’s weakness, because that reduces the “accuracy” by 75% regardless of how many enemies are on screen. Make one character a dedicated black wizard and have him cast a spell every single action, never attack. At first they are weaker than in the original, for sure, but still very effective against the enemies who are weak against them. By mid-game, they will be getting strong and comparable to other Final Fantasy games. One of them (Toad) becomes downright broken by level 4; it almost always instantly kills a single enemy.

      I’ve beaten it twice on the NES and I think it’s actually a really awesome game; it just has a leveling system that takes more commitment than one normally expects, especially after the original.

      • Jesus Christ

        Maybe I had heavy gear on, not sure. I’m pretty sure that I thought I leveled ultima to 16 (not sure how high you can go), but it still did next to no damage. I’m guessing you have to level other spells or something first? I didn’t bother with toad, since I figured it wouldn’t work against most enemies. I’ll have do another play-through sometime and try dedicated wizard.

        • Adam Rasmussen

          Ultima is glitched so it will never be good. The basic spells, Fire, Ice, and Bolt, can become very strong, as can Holy.

          I think most players wrongly assume that status spells won’t work, though I’m not sure why. Blind is another one in Final Fantasy II that is very effective. Curse can be, too, but I just use Blind, because the more you use the same spell, the better it gets. Enemies that are blinded do very little damage.

          This web guide (http://guides.gamercorner.net/ffiii/) has very detailed information about the weapons and armor and how everything works. I know a lot of players who don’t know try to make Maria a wizard but keep her with the bow, but having a bow equipped removes her entire mind/intelligence bonus, so her spells are terrible, then! Pretty much all the weapons ruin spells, except knives and staves.

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